England v India, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 2nd day July 18, 2014

'I was probably a bit naive' - Ballance

It was been an 'interesting' week for England's No. 3 but the only aspect of it that should really matter is how he is slotting into a key position in the batting order

It will not be the first time this week that Gary Ballance's picture has featured on the back pages of the newspapers, but this time he may take far more pleasure in it.

Earlier in the week, pictures of Ballance, without a shirt and clearly the worse for wear after a night out, were published in several papers. He had, it transpired, unwound from the demanding Test in Nottingham, by venturing into the city with several team-mates and, after several hours drinking, was photographed in a somewhat unflattering state by other club goers. Batting it seems, is thirsty work.

While the England team management took an admirably mature response to the incident - they reminded Ballance of his responsibilities and the media that he was a young man unwinding on a night off - the player admitted the episode had been "a bit embarrassing."

So it was a relief that, a couple of days later, he should find himself featured in the same publications for reasons that should make him proud. On a pitch that remains helpful to seam bowlers, Ballance recorded the second century of his brief Test career to keep his side in the game against India.

Ballance is a wonderfully no-frills cricketer. There is little pretty about him, little outrageous and little extravagant. He is pragmatic; all substance and little style.

And he is just what England require. After the gaping hole created by the departure of Jonathan Trott, it was thought that either Ian Bell or Joe Root would fill the No. 3 position.

Instead the job was given to a rookie. And Ballance has shown that, despite a reluctance to come forward, he has the talent and temperament to flourish at this level. He leaves well, defends well and is powerful on the cut, in particular, and the pull. He also has another gear - a savage, thrashing sort of mode - that, he hinted at in a nine-ball spell when he punished Stuart Binny for five boundaries including two in succession to reach his century.

Here he enjoyed one moment of fortune when, on 32, he survived an edge off the unfortunate Binny, that flew between the wicketkeeper and first slip. But he has now scored two centuries and two half-centuries in eight Test innings and shown the welcome ability both to grind it out when necessary and accelerate when appropriate. Whatever England's other problems, they appear to have found a gem in Ballance.

His comments on the innings could have been used to describe almost every innings he has played for England to date.

"I just thought 'I've got to scrap hard here," he said. "I thought it's probably not going to be pretty or very exciting to watch. But at the end of the day, it's about doing a job. I tried to be patient.

"I knew I was going to play and miss, so tried to leave as much as I could and just wait for anything with a bit of width or anything too straight. Luckily, I fought hard, got an edge through the slips early on, and it's paid off, being patient."

His record at Lord's is remarkable. After scoring a century here for Yorkshire against Middlesex earlier in the season - his maiden first-class game on the ground - he followed it up with a maiden Test century against Sri Lanka in June in just his second Test. He also scored a century on the ground as a Harrow schoolboy in the historic match against Eton.

While Ballance has made a fine start to life in the No. 3 position, there are those who think he could open the batting. Certainly Dave Houghton, a friend of the Ballance family who has played a significant part in the player's development, feels he has what it takes. The cynical might suggest that, given Alastair Cook's form, Ballance is in effect doing the job already.

But Ballance, of course, maintained the party line when asked about England's beleaguered captain. "Knowing what Cooky is like, he'll still be very positive and upbeat," he said. "He's a fantastic cricketer, a fantastic captain and his scores over the years prove that.

"He'll obviously be disappointed not getting a score today. But he'll keep going hard and I'm sure it will be a matter of time before he gets that big score."

Even if the description of Cook as a "fantastic captain" might raise some eyebrows, Ballance's assessment of the game position was much more to the mark.

"We're 70 odd behind, with still some good batters coming in and who can score quickly," he said. "If we can get two more partnerships, and try to get a lead, on this wicket we can put India under a bit of pressure. The third innings is always a crucial part of the game. So if we can get that lead, and bowl well, we can push for a victory."

And his reaction to the coverage of the night out in Nottingham?

"I didn't see it coming," he said, "It was a bit embarrassing. I was probably a bit naive, but I didn't really break any rules. I was just having fun after a Test match. But I'll learn from that, and probably won't do it again.

"It's been an interesting week. I didn't really expect it, but it's nice to score some runs and put us back in a decent position.

"I felt a bit of pressure turning up on day one, with what happened. But everyone around me was very supportive: the coaches, all the players, my family were backing me and saying 'mistakes happen; you've got to learn from it and move on'. Luckily I took a catch in the third or fourth over and that calmed me down a lot."

Ballance may well be calming the nerves of England supporters just as much in the coming years.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments